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Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada Essay


Adult education encompasses the alternative educational curriculum designed for adults who, for one reason or another, dropped out of school before acquiring essential basic skills needed in life. Adult education has profound social benefits and as such, an agent for social change.

Adult education is of significant value as a means of addressing social problems and providing solutions to issues affecting disadvantaged groups in society. It provides means of bridging the social inequalities that exist in contemporary societies with regard to reproductive health and social empowerment, especially in relation to economic, cultural and political engagement.

Adult education, when considered according to the practices and principles of community-based education has the potential of reducing and even eliminating existing social inequalities. Community-based education for adults is based on the assumption that any community, urban or rural, has the capacity to generate solutions to its own problems. It serves as an instrument for promoting and strengthening social capacity to address various social challenges.

The United Chinese Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS) is one such a program that involves diverse community development initiatives to foster adult education for a Chinese immigrant community (Guo 107). The organization, based in Vancouver, Canada, provides accessible adult education and social services to new Chinese immigrants. Success has created a community of immigrants that plays multiple roles in relation to the provision of adult education.

These include provision of adult education programs, facilitation of community development, and advocating on behalf of the Chinese immigrants in relation to citizenship. The ‘SUCCESS’ education programs and services addressed the needs of the adult immigrant community, and as such, facilitated social change.

History of SUCCESS

Immigrant communities in countries such as Canada face challenges such as the language barrier and social skills that deter them from fully participating in the society. Additionally, mainstream government agencies may not efficiently provide services that meet the social and cultural needs of immigrant communities. It is against this backdrop that SUCCESS was established. It saw its dawn in 1973 to enhance accessibility of adult education programs and other social services to new adult immigrants from China (Guo 111).

Initially, SUCCESS started out as a Chinese Connection Project (1973-1979) funded by Health and Welfare Canada to enhance accessibility of social services to new immigrants primarily from Hong Kong, China. The services provided during this period comprised of language skills, taught through the English Language as a Second Language (ESL) classes and settlement services.

Between 1979 and 1989, the immigrants from Hong Kong substantially increased following the Sino-British pact. This meant that SUCCESS had to increase the volume of its services to match the high number of immigrants. SUCCESS also had to expand its services to different locations as the immigrants continued to settle in different geographical locations beyond Chinatown region, Vancouver. From 1989 to 1998, SUCCESS expanded tremendously both in its program offerings and scope.

It incorporated a number of services and programs for immigrant communities (Chinese and non-Chinese immigrants). The high numbers and the changing composition of the immigrant population forced SUCCESS to expand its program offerings to suit immigrants from other regions. Currently, SUCCESS offers a number of professional programs to immigrant communities mainly from China, enhancing community development and education for citizenship, and providing advocacy services for the immigrants.

Issues Addressed by SUCCESS

Since its inception, SUCCESS has played a pivotal role in promoting community development for the Chinese Community. In particular, the organization primarily addresses issues to do with citizenship and settlement procedures of new immigrants, adult education to enhance social participation, and advocacy services.

With regard to citizenship, SUCCESS provides educational programs that enable new immigrants to acquire citizenship and settle in Canada. The organization also directs immigrants to the appropriate service providers, including translation services to overcome the language barrier and enable them to seek services from immigration agencies in Canada. The organization also advocates on behalf of immigrants in relation to public participation and discrimination.

For instance, SUCCESS initiated a nationwide protest campaign against stereotypes broadcasted in Canadian mainstream media that satirized the accent of new Chinese immigrants. To address social exclusion, language barrier and facilitate participation of new immigrants in community development, SUCCESS programs cover six broad areas.

These include language and settlement procedures training, reception of immigrants at airports, training on employment opportunities, counseling services, training on small business ventures, and community services.

The stakeholders of this organization include various Chinese organizations, the media, volunteers involved in providing interpretation services and the federal government. The Chinese organizations such as the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Chinese Merchants association provide social services, business training and language training services to new immigrants. Many mainstream organizations also provide a variety of services to immigrants under the auspices of SUCCESS.

These organizations include the law enforcement, the healthcare institutions, schools and the media. “The different classes of government in Canada (municipal, provincial and federal) are involved in funding of SUCCESS’s immigrant services” (Guo 109). In particular, the provincial governments fund educational and health services for immigrants.

The Role of Adult Education in Social Change

In the context of Chinese immigrant community, the lack of services that address the social needs had a significant impact on their social development. Thus, SUCCESS’s educational programs and services served to transform the social status of the immigrants by improving accessibility to economic opportunities in Canada. According to Derwing, adult education geared towards social change involves educational activities that transform the society within which they are implemented (194).

As such, with an objective of transforming the society in which they operate, there should be an organization of educational activities. Adult education can serve as an instrument for transmitting new values with an aim of bringing about social change.

CIT perceives adult education as a means of creating a renewed sense of motivation and transmitting fundamental values and attitudes that allow people to tackle new challenges in whichever social context they find themselves. SUCCESS educational programs instill new forms of perceptions that enable new immigrants cope with cultural change and participate in community development.

The main purpose of adult education is to equip adults with necessary skills and knowledge that enables them to manipulate their social environment well and attain individual and community development.

In this sense, adult education confers social freedom for the survival and development of individuals and by extension, the community. SUCCESS recognizes that adult education can serve to expedite social/community development, hence the provision of necessary skills to immigrants to enable them participate in community development.

Grossi examines the lack of participation by the public in their community development (123). He argues that cultural stereotypes facilitate a sense of indifference in oppressed populations with regard to seeking solutions to their plight. This prevents them from actively seeking a solution to their own problems.

Thus, participation is a crucial process that involves the masses in formulating their own goals and working together to achieve them. Among the stakeholders in SUCCESS’ educational initiatives are Chinese organizations such as the Chinese Benevolent Association and the Chinese Cultural Center, which understand the needs of the immigrant community. This means that the educational programs and development projects undertaken by SUCCESS reflect the social needs of the Chinese community.

Derwing argues that the planning and implementation of the adult educational initiatives should not rely entirely on expert opinion; rather it should involve a needs assessment that involves the participation of the individual members (201). The challenges faced by new Chinese immigrants, including language barrier, and citizenship and settlement difficulties were identified by the Chinese organizations that form the principal stakeholders of SUCCESS.

The idea is to enable the new immigrants to participate in their own development and as such, be agents of social change. Through SUCCESS’s adult education programs and services, the immigrants are able to inquire and obtain necessary information that enables them to address their problems in the context of the larger Canadian society.

Since adult education facilitates the development of the community within the larger society, it is, therefore, an instrument for social change as community development reflects social mobility and transformation. In the context of Vancouver, the immigrants have less skills and knowledge resources to participate in the development. Thus, being a minority, they are prone to challenges such as unemployment, lack of opportunities and social alienation from the mainstream society.

Social change means changed perceptions and lifestyle patterns with regard to providing solutions to problems and making life better for the entire community. According to Derwing, the role of social change is to transform attitudes, values, knowledge and skills (192).

Accordingly, the purpose of SUCCESS concurs with Derwing’s assertion. It facilitates the acquisition of language skills and knowledge by immigrants that enable them to operate in Canadian society. Additionally, SUCCESS advocates on behalf of immigrants to eliminate social exclusion and foster their participation in the larger community development.

The Principles and Values of Community-Based Adult Education

Friere suggests that education for the oppressed or minority in the society helps them to become conscious of the social determinants in their lives (93). He argues that social change only occurs “when each individual becomes aware of the social determinants in his/her life and undertakes to transform them for the common expedient”. In other words, to effect social change, it requires both the learner and the instructor to engage in the process of reflection, dialogue and action, i.e. praxis.

Friere defines praxis as “a reflection on a particular action that translates into an improved action” (94). In this regard, the social stereotypes and the lack of skills such as language skills can impair the minority individuals’ reflection on an action often because of lack of motivation to pursue social justice in the context of mainstream society.

In Vancouver, prior to the inception of the SUCCESS program, the lack educational programs and services to cater for the needs of the immigrants, means that they were socially disadvantaged. The SUCCESS programs equipped the immigrants with fundamental skills and advocated for a social environment conducive for their development to improve the quality of their life.

Therefore, praxis is an essential principle for adult learning. It entails stimulating individuals’ inbuilt reflection to bring about an appropriate action. Praxis can serve much in transmitting skills, knowledge and attitudes to adult learners and as they put the new attitudes and skills into practice, they reflect on their actions (Derwing 202). Central to the theory of adult education is the vital role played by reflection on subsequent actions.

Adult learning process involves four cardinal stages; firstly, the individuals encounter with a particular experience, which in this context was a language barrier, limited opportunities, citizenship, and settlement difficulties experienced by early Chinese immigrants into Canada. The second stage involves reflection and analysis of the experience; this influenced the early Chinese immigrants to establish SUCCESS to assist other immigrants to cope with new challenges.

The third stage involves seeking action in response to the experience. Hence, SUCCESS’s provision of programs and services tailored to meet the diverse needs of the new immigrants. The last stage involves the use of a new approach to tackling issues; SUCCESS’s programs enabled the new immigrants to integrate in the community and seek solutions to challenges they faced in the wider Canadian community.

The principle of praxis enables adult learners to develop their learning plans in such a way that participants are able to apply what they learn. In this way, the members are able to reflect their actions both as the decision-makers and as subjects in their cultural contexts. SUCCESS involved Chinese organizations and individuals in the development of the training programs.

Thus, in this case, the educators and the learners interacted directly in any of SUCCESS’s programs. Additionally, the staff comprised of immigrants settled in Canada, who understand the native languages and culture of the new immigrants. This ensured the meeting of the diverse needs of new immigrants, especially with regard to settlement procedures.

The development of the counseling services had the cultural and linguistic aspects of immigrants in mind. A multilingual staff English, Cantonese and Chinese Mandarin) offered the counseling services to the clients’ native languages. Additionally, the Chinese organizations, in partnership with SUCCESS, offered the advocacy and community development services.

Immigrants, who once participated in SUCCESS’s programs offered support for this cause in the grassroots. Thus, the principle of praxis results to a designed approach with set objectives such that the content taught reflects these objectives. In other words, the members of the community have to take an active role in tackling the social problems that they face.

The expansion of SUCCESS to incorporate non-Chinese immigrants reflects a multi-sectoral approach to community development. Grossi describes the best practice principles for adult education organizations (124). He contends that the organization must formulate multiple goals and actively involve most participants in community development.

SUCCESS involved multiple Chinese organizations, former participants as volunteers, mainstream organizations and the government to achieve its three-pronged goals; providing adult education programs, advocacy and liaison services and facilitation of citizenship and settlement for immigrants. Additionally, Rose suggests a multiple approach to adult education in order to have maximum impact on the community.

This is the contingency approach, which requires the analysis of the cultural values, the community characteristics and the nature of the social problem in order to design appropriate educational programs. SUCCESS’s programs and services address the challenges that face new immigrants to Canada.

Analysis of Oppression

Oppression in the context of the immigrants involved cultural stereotypes and social inequalities arising from limited opportunities and necessary skills by immigrants relative to the rest of the population in Vancouver. This form of oppression is known as marginalization, where individuals especially minority population are excluded from the mainstream social and economic activities. In Canada, the 13.4% of the general population are minority groups (Derwing 197), with the majority born and raised in foreign countries.

Their language skills and knowledge do not match those required in a contemporary Canadian society owing to the cultural differences. As such, the minorities cannot participate fully in their community development. Derwing contends that marginalization is the worst form of oppression as it excludes individual from social life (198). This has the potential of resulting to material deprivation, especially when the ‘oppression’ extends to the economic sector.

Additionally, Grossi identifies two injustices that arise from material deprivation in contemporary Western societies. The first injustice relates to the provision of social welfare services (121). In Canada, prior to the establishment of SUCCESS, government-funded welfare services, e.g., language training programs to enable new Chinese immigrants integrate into the society were lacking.

This amounted to oppression; a practice SUCCESS sought to combat through various adult education initiatives that impart necessary skills to immigrants to enable them participate in their own development. The second injustice regards the exclusion of particular individuals or groups from full citizenship rights.

This makes these groups to depend on bureaucratic institutions for social support services, and as a result, they are subject to punitive treatment by policies imposed by these institutions. Additionally, this denies the marginalized group the right to satisfy their social and health needs in a culturally appropriate way. SUCCESS combats this directly through its advocacy and liaison services and programs, job training and culturally appropriate counseling services.

Social exclusion is oppressive in the sense that it prevents individuals from participating in social cooperation and community development. It denies the oppressed group access to social and health services of high quality as those for the mainstream society. In this way, social exclusion creates social inequalities with regard to the provision of services. Derwing contends that with or without social support, marginalization breeds a sense of uselessness and disrespect for the marginalized groups (201).

Thus, while marginalization primarily encompasses injustices in resource distribution, it extends to cultural and social deprivation by limiting social interaction and cooperation. SUCCESS’s programs and services aimed to bridge the social gap between the immigrant community and the mainstream society. It also gave the Chinese immigrants an opportunity to interact in economic and social contexts in order to foster their development as a community.


Adult education is a vital instrument for addressing social problems affecting disadvantaged groups. SUCCESS’s programs and services aimed at providing necessary skills and knowledge to new immigrants primarily from Hong Kong, China, who faced difficulties integrating in the mainstream society.

The immigrants faced language barrier and lack of welfare services, which amounted to oppression. SUCCESS’s service offerings were three-pronged; language training, facilitation of citizenship and settlement procedures and enhancing community development. SUCCESS’s approaches concur with Friere’s praxis principle that regards community-based education as an agent for social change.

Works Cited

Derwing, Tomy. Instilling a passive voice: citizenship instruction in Canada. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1997. Print.

Friere, Petr. The Politics of Education. Massachusetts: Bervin and Gravey, 1985. Print.

Grossi, Foster. Adult Education and Rural Development. Convergence 13.3 (2004): 121-125

Guo, Shibao. Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada. Convergence 10.4 (1999): 107-119.

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1. IvyPanda. "Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada." February 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/adult-education-for-social-change-the-role-of-a-grassroots-organization-in-canada-essay/.


IvyPanda. "Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada." February 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/adult-education-for-social-change-the-role-of-a-grassroots-organization-in-canada-essay/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada." February 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/adult-education-for-social-change-the-role-of-a-grassroots-organization-in-canada-essay/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Adult Education for Social Change: The Role of a Grassroots Organization in Canada'. 14 February.

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